About Writing

Week 9

Sept 2nd – 8th, 2014

Life is getting a bit busier now, and at times I feel tempted to skip a blog post, but I keep on writing. Doing my narrative medicine reading for tomorrow’s third class really reminded me why I write.

It is not to just share how “cool” I think my life is, or even to get followers. R Charon puts it perfectly: “By conferring form to a formless experience, the writer can display and appreciate all dimensions or facets of the situation…the writer can see [herself] from afar or from the point of view of another actor in the scene.”

Through my writing, I can reflect on and expose aspects of my life I would have never noticed, crystallizing my daily life experiences and  the memories of those who traverse life along side me. So before I share this week’s post, I just want to say a huge thank you to those who read. It means so much to me. Thank you for being a witness to this exercise! I also challenge you to write a little when you can, I think it will be worth it.

Alright, weekly rundown.

TUESDAY: Touchy Feely Tuesdays

At Case, we have this block called, “Foundations of Clinical Medicine.” It involves seminars on Tuesdays. In them, we talk about about our feelings and the “softer” aspects of medicine. Case students fondly call them, “Touchy Feely Tuesdays,” and we spend this time reflecting with our IQ group. This practice will continue all throughout the first three years of medical school with my current IQ group. For our first seminar, we shared our “first cut” reflections. I really enjoyed listening to my IQ members sharing their reflections on working with cadavers for the first time. They are gifted in more ways than one. I have already talked about my first cut in a previous post, but here is my official reflection if you’d like to take a look at it.

The Anatomy Lesson

Have you ever seen The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Nicholaes Tulp?

Rembrandt completed this painting in 1632.

Bearded Dutch men

All dressed in dark shirts

With white collars surround

A corpse.

Lying on his back.

Eyes open.

Anima, life. gone.

Doctor Tulp led the dissection while looking off into the distance.

Hemostat in his right hand,

And the exposed and dissected musculature

Of the dead man’s left forearm

Is red.

Vibrant against the black oil paint of the canvas

And his ashen, white body.

Removed, silent, anatomy.

His anima, life, gone.

When medical students dissect cadavers, we step into a tradition that has been a part of medicine for centuries. Taboo and strange, I was not quite sure how I would respond—surely, not with the eerily silent confidence of Dr. Tulp and his companions.

I looked at my fellow dissectors. We are a diverse team.  South Asian, Caucasian, Nigerian, and Uzbekistani—two of us women, we do not look a thing like the bearded Dutch men surrounding Tulp’s dissected corpse.

We were chatty, apprehensive, and determined to not be overcome by the natural desire to be removed and silent in the presence of the dead.

Our cadaver was a large man with plenty of subcutaneous fat in the abdomen. Even though I had worked with cadavers before, it had always been during the summer after other medical students had done their dissections.

Those bodies barely looked like humans.

But when the body of this cadaver lay in front of us, it looked astoundingly human.

White with splotches of pink against his body.

Unceremoniously naked.

His face mysteriously covered.

Anima, life, gone.

I was uncomfortable with the notion of cutting up a “complete” body. Once one of my peers made the first incision from shoulder to shoulder, they discomfort began to subside.

In a matter of minutes, scalpels were out and we were doing some serious cutting—peeling back the skin.

During the time cutting, I could not help but think about the differences between the body and me. What makes me live? And what makes him dead? Why and how did his body fail him to bring him to the state?

I repeatedly, reflected on how I difficult it would be for to give up my body to science.

To allow myself to be so exposed and to be even more exposed before strangers.

To consider my mortality, and how my body is just fascia, tissues, water and blood.

A shell.

Nothing more once anima, life, is gone.

Then again,

His body is a strange and needed gift.

Despite the fearful reminder of my own mortality, I was filled with a sort of reverence for the person who was.

When did he decide to do this?

How sick was he?

Had he thought about it for a long time?

Even in the midst of the cutting and the thrill, I was struck with waves of deep realization that

This is human flesh.

This is the shell of someone who was, and I must honor it.

In the moment, Dr. Tulp and his men may have seemed stern and distant from the dead body, and maybe they were.

But we cut, Tulp and all the other medical students from the centuries between us,

For anima,

For life.

And with this knowledge

Given to me

By the body before me.

I will learn how to preserve life.

And for that,

I am grateful. 

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Later that day (a very touchy feely day), I we had my narrative medicine class! I read from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I am sad to say that was my first time reading Morrison, and it was as good as I expected. The is a part where one of the characters, Claudia, a pre-teen girl is sick, and her mother takes care of her. Her mother complains and moans about her sickness. Claudia feels unwanted and dissatisfied with her mother’s frustration directed at her. One part of the reading was just stunning to me: 

And in the night, when my coughing was dry and tough, feet padded into the room,hands repinned the flannel, readjusted the quilt, and rested a moment on my forehead. So when I think of autumn, I think of somebody with hands who does not want me to die.

We were asked in class to write about a time when someone did not want us to die. This is my little story:

It was the winter of the polar vortex.

Below 30 degree wind chill. So cold that our door nob froze from the inside of the house.

 -30 degrees outside.

104 degrees inside my body.

I lay on my bed, out of sorts and delirious.

No ibuprofen/

Snowed in.

And my mother wrapped her body in scarves and coats.

Took the shovel, and dug her way to CVS.

So when I think of the polar vortex, I think of my mother who used her hands to bring me medicine.

Her hands, the hands of someone who did not want me to die. 

WEDNESDAY: Academic Festival Overture

The major highlight of my Wednesday was playing in an orchestra for the first time in 4 years or so. I’m 6th chair out of 8 cellos, but I am just so happy to be playing again after such a long hiatus, and most of the cellists are music major undergrads which doesn’t make me feel too bad. I love our first piece,Academic Festival Overture by Brahms. He wrote it out of gratitude to the University of Breslau for giving him an honorary doctorate in 1879.

I LOVE this piece, and had played excerpts of it for an audition many years ago. It is amazing how you can remember the fingerings for things after your hands have laid dormant for such a long while.

Here is a fabulous clip of Leornard Bernstein (guy who wrote the music forWest Side Story) directing it in 1981. It’s a great recording. If you’re in Cleveland Oct. 13th, please check out our concert!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1E6FBi-AJw

THURSDAY: Checking out the anatomy lab and the Fairmount

This week was great because we had no formal dissection so my friend, Ify and I went in to review some structures from the week before. It was such a great idea. Looking at cadavers is not the most pleasant thing in the world for me, honestly, but it is so much better when you have a buddy to do it with!

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Afterwards, I met up with M2, Aurelie at the Fairmount and we had great time catching up. We went to the same undergrad institution together, but did not know each other there. However, I stayed with her when I came from my interview at Case last winter! The Fairmount is a nice spot, and I’d seriously recommend it.

FRIDAY: A Night at the Museum

Friday was a day to be cultured. Case had an event called the, “Artful Scholar” at the Cleveland Museum of Art. For $12, I got fed, and went on an a short tour of a few exhibits. The tour I went on was of “Medieval Art: Religion, Riches, and Romance.” That was the title. In reality, it should have been, “Baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Crucified Jesus.” That was essentially most of what we saw. But, I did not mind it too much beyond some theological problems from the graduate students descriptions of some of the paintings. She did bring up this really great point about how the Medieval people were kind of obsessed with Christ’s suffering. There were so many crucifixes, and she described it as the “fettishism of Christ’s suffering.” That was exactly what it  was, and I do wonder what aspects of modern Christian life have become fettish-ized? How has religion become a commodity?

The tour was thought provoking, and this was my favorite piece. It is the Vesperbuild (pieta) completed in 1430 (pictured below). A more famous version was made by Michelangelo.

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Afterwards pictures were taken, I painted a little bit, and was hit on by a creepy 45 year old who apparently was watching me paint for “quite awhile.”

Why me, Oh Lord?

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SATURDAY: Hanging with the Girls

Saturday was another fabulous day. Weekly foodie adventure: Inn on Coventry. I am trying to cut down on eating out, though so there may be less of the blurbs in the future. However, I definitely recommend the lemon and ricotta pancake from this wonderful breakfast restaurant. It is also very affordable!

I had a wonderful girls breakfast with Aaida, Heba, and Emily.

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Earlier in the week, I nearly had a heart attack when Ify and Christa told me that they had NEVER seen The Bodyguard. As Whitney Houston fan, I had to correct the problem so I had my first Cleveland movie showing! It was sooo much fun. The movie commentary by all of the viewers was just as good (probably better) than the movie! One of my favorite pastimes is to watch the movies I love with good friends. It is like sharing a piece of yourself as well as reliving the moment you watched that film for the first time.

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Favorite song from the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxYw0XPEoKE

imageWhat a great night!!

SUNDAY: Costco, M1 Dinner, and Interviewee

On Sunday, very minimal work was done. After church at Gateway (honestly, I love this church more each week) and a fabulous sermon on the beginning of the “Sermon on the Mount” (longest recorded sermon given by Jesus), I went to Costco with Jen, Emma, and Felicia.

Jen and I shamelessly went after those free samples like you know jobless, hungry medical students do.

The way back home was too eventful, however! Mayfield road was blocked off due to a parade in Lydhurst. It was so annoying.

In the evening, I went to a dinner party hosted by the director multicultural affairs at CWRU SOM. The Chinese food we had was so on point, and makes me want to explore Cleveland’s Asiatown…in a few weeks…if I have money…

Later that night, we hosted a student coming in for a Case interview! Even though I’m two months into medical school, it is so crazy to think that the application cycle has begun once again. Life really goes on, we are a piece of it. Another day ends as another begins and we really have to find our place in the midst of it all.

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